Something Old, Something New

By Silvana Clark

Many returning campers immediately ask counselors, “Are we going to play Color Wars again?” “Will we do the polar bear swim this year?” “When is the talent show?” Certain activities are a sure hit with campers, which is why many camps keep the same programs summer after summer. Yet there comes a time when it’s important to raise the creativity factor and try some innovative activities. This doesn’t require buying expensive equipment or spending hours in preparation for designing a complex “Escape Room.” One day, a camp dumped an entire truckload of playground sand in a little-used area of the camp. That massive pile of sand proved to be the most popular place to go during free-time, as campers played with toy bulldozers, shovels, and action figures.

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“Build-Your-Own” Scavenger Hunt
Sometimes all it takes to create a new activity is to put a spin on a traditional program. For example, we’ve all done scavenger hunts where campers grab a list of items and head off in search of heart-shaped rocks or a smelly red sock. Add a twist by giving campers a list of items to find that require creative thinking. Include items such as:

  • A bed for a snake

  • A leaf picker-upper made from fallen twigs

  • A bird bath made from an article of clothing.

The teams then come back to share the fun contraptions they made, resulting in lots of creative ideas.

Get To Work
At one camp, staff members were running out of indoor game ideas after three days of solid rain. Someone had the idea to put campers to “work.” Counselors set out a wide assortment of sports equipment, craft items, and even brooms and plastic dishpans in the center of the gym. Campers were divided into teams, and each team selected four items from the pile. Each team had 30 minutes to devise a game using the four items and teach it to the rest of the campers. The afternoon was spent playing innovative games such as “Throw the sponges at the counselor while he is hula hooping.” The event turned out to be so popular that it became an annual event.

Fort For A Queen
My daughter attended day camp as a third grader and came home the first day raving about the amazing fort she and her cabin mates were building in the woods. “I can’t wait for you to see it,” she exclaimed. “Parents can come see the forts on the last day of camp.” Each day, she regaled us with stories about the fort. One day, she took our Welcome mat to camp to use at the entrance to the fort. Another day she asked her dad to help make a wooden sign saying, “Welcome to the Sparkling Unicorn’s Fort.” The next day we had to sew curtains because evidently this fort had windows. At the end of camp we walked through the five acres of woods dotted with an array of forts and fort-like structures. The sixth graders had several sturdy forts created from fallen tree logs, complete with secret entryways. My daughter could barely contain herself as she led us to her cabin’s fort. Ten third-grade girls beamed as they showed us the flimsy structure they had created from a few thin tree branches. Yet, in their eyes, the fort with a Welcome mat, wooden sign, and gingham curtains was a massive structure created with architectural ingenuity. The camp director told me this was the most popular camp activity. As soon as the campers left, counselors tore down the forts and spread the logs and tree branches throughout the woods to be used the following week.

Use Your Noodles
Foam pool noodles can be used in so many ways besides in the pool. Simply look up “Pool Noodle Activities” on Pinterest or Google, and you’ll be shocked at the creative ways people use these inexpensive and popular items. One of the easiest games involves having campers stand in a random pattern on a lawn, five feet apart. Each camper holds a noodle in front, vertically. Once a whistle is blown, each camper releases the noodle and runs to grab another camper’s noodle before it falls to the ground. Or give campers plastic knives and let them cut the pool noodles into foam discs. Then play a game of adapted baseball where campers use a long pool noodle as a bat and try to hit the smaller foam discs.

Synchronized Swimming
Do you have some outgoing teenage boys at your camp? Try a spontaneous synchronized swimming competition. Get several teams of six to eight boys who will go in the pool or lake, one team at a time. Randomly assign a team captain who will lead the group in graceful underwater pirouettes and leg lifts. Turn on the music and watch the teams try to follow their designated leader while displaying water acrobatics. Other campers can sit on the sidelines with cardboard signs scoring each team with 9.5 or even a perfect 10!

Racking Up The Points
Many camps have a non-competitive way of giving campers points for certain activities. (And yes, some camps are highly competitive when it comes to giving out those coveted points!) One camp had a unique way of awarding points. Instead of announcing, “The cleanest cabin will be awarded 10 points,” the stakes were raised. Yes, indeed! At this camp, a cabin could earn 25,000 points for having the cabin in immaculate shape. Leave some candy for the “Cabin Inspector,” and the cabin could earn another 10,000 points. But those who left candy the inspector didn’t like were docked 5,000 points. Twice a day, campers eagerly awaited the results on the scoreboard. At 8 a.m., a cabin could have 110,000 points, and then by dinner the group could be up to 215,000 points. On the other hand, because one cabin tossed a counselor into the pool, suddenly they were down to 62,000 points. Campers went along with the nonsensical scoring because of the element of surprise and fun throughout the day. One group wrote and sang a personalized song about the camp director and earned 22,000 points. Campers didn’t mind if they came in last at a game and didn’t earn any points. They figured they could make up the points by complimenting a counselor or offering to clean all the dining room tables after lunch. On the last day of camp, cabin scores ranged from 893,000 points to 673,000. Several parents later contacted the camp director, commenting that the highlight of their child’s week was earning “thousands” of points!

It just goes to show how a few innovative activities create positive memories for campers!

Silvana Clark is a speaker, author, and brand ambassador who travels to impart her knowledge of camps and programming to agencies worldwide. Reach her at www.silvanaclark.com.